21 April 2008

"Obtain a shot of rhythm & blues," he demanded.

Classrooms used to have posters with lists of "Better Words to Use Instead of GET" and "More Interesting Words to Use Instead of SAID". Scholars were urged to avoid these simple, useful Anglo-Saxon words in favour of such formalities as received or obtained, remarked or observed.

Never mind that get or said were easily found throughout the works of professional, even great, writers. Shakespeare ended Sonnet VII with So thou, thyself out-going in thy noon/Unlook'd on diest, unless thou get a son: would they have preferred acquired a son?

In song, The Beatles might have written Proceed Back instead of Get Back, and Must Manoeuvre You Into My Life instead of Got To Get You Into My Life. Dave Edmunds' album would have been 'Procure It', not 'Get It', and Arthur Alexander would have thrown out the get and sung obtain a shot of rhythm & blues.

As for said:
Beatles: She Remarked.
Wings: Listen To What The Man Stated.
Van Morrison: Jackie Wilson Observed.
Neil Diamond: I Am... I Asserted.
Bernard Cribbins: Right Exclaimed Fred.

I'm being facetious, but in many contexts get and said are perfectly respectable. Substituting longer words can sound self-conscious, over-formal, or lacking in directness. It makes sense if the substitute offers an extra shade of meaning (bought for got), or if the context forces you to keep it formal, but often it adds nothing, especially in fiction: "Oh, look! The mother bird is leaving the nest," observed Mary.

As long ago as 1908, H.G. Fowler was offering this advice in The King's English:

ANY one who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.

This general principle may be translated into practical rules in the domain of vocabulary as follows:—
Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
Prefer the concrete word to the abstract.
Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
Prefer the short word to the long.
Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.

20 April 2008

A dream about the song APunk by Vampire Weekend

The day I first heard Vampire Weekend's song APunk I couldn't get it out of my mind. I even dreamt about it:

We were in a crowded surfside hippy folk club at an old hall. There was a main hall inside but we were out in a smaller room, like an entrance hall.

A couple were singing a great, catchy, up-tempo song that I’d never heard: a girl with bright orange-dyed hair, straight & short, slightly pixie-like features, playing a big acoustic guitar, and on harmonies a woolly headed surfie guy, matted long fair hair, standing on the other side of her.

They finished and left, and I kept thinking, “I should’ve asked them what the song was.” I looked on gig posters on the walls to see if I could get a clue. There was music playing inside by now, and I was afraid the song would go out of my mind.

After a while I went outside and looked across the street to the beachfront: there were cars parked all along the curb, then a park and the beach. The couple were standing at the back of an old car with its boot up. They’d obviously been for a swim, and were towelling themselves dry.

I started to walk across to ask them about the song.

Then I woke up with it still playing in my head.

After I awoke properly, I realised that the song was A-Punk by Vampire Weekend, except that the folkie couple had been singing their own, dreamlike arrangement…

Photo from Vampire Weekend's MySpace where you can listen to APunk. It seems to have been taken in an old hall.

15 April 2008

Trini Lopez - Up to Now: update

The Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel FAQ at alt.music.paul-simon identifies the third writer of Trini Lopez's Up To Now, Terry Sue Pinter, as the wife of co-writer Marty Cooper. In fact, it throws more light on the whole connection between the writers of Up To Now (Bob Susser-Marty Cooper-Terry Sue Pinter) and Paul Simon:
Paul hooked up sporadically with a group called Tico & The Triumphs. Other members were Michael (Mickey) Borack, Howie Beck, Martin Nathaniel (Marty) Cooper, and his wife Terry Sue Pinter. Their manager was Robert Howard (Bob) Susser. "Tico" was Marty Cooper, although many sources incorrectly assert that Paul was. Most of the songs were written by Susser, Cooper and Pinter...

The group's origin can be traced to 1956, when Borack, then 10 years old, formed a group called The Crew Cuts. Later, when living in Queens, he joined with schoolfriends Cooper and Gail Lynn. One night in June 1960, Paul, still calling himself Jerry Landis, played a high school prom at the Forest Hills Jewish Center. Borack and Co. also performed I've Told Every Little Star, sufficiently impressing Paul that he suggested they all meet at summer's end to work together.

In September, the group joined Paul at his home in Flushing to rehearse the song Motorcycle. Paul also produced the single and sang lead. They named themselves after the Tico record label and the popular Triumph sports car of the day.

Their biggest success was with that first song, which reached number 99 on the Billboard charts on January 6, 1962. However, Paul also put out two songs (Lone Teen Ranger/I Wish I Weren't In Love) under his Jerry Landis alias that were actually Triumphs records. The former charted at #97.

There are also several songs credited by BMI to Susser/Pinter/Cooper that weren't released, and may not have been recorded either.
[For more details, see my original post and the FAQ quoted above.]

14 April 2008

Top 3 amusing go-go videos

At its best, go-go dancing - popularised in the discotheques of the 60s - could look spontaneous and attractive, but I suspect that conventional choreographers tended to get hold of it for rehearsed performances on TV and film.

In reverse order of risibility:

#3 From the 1966 film Out of SightFreddie & the Dreamers perform Funny Over You, not a bad song by the standards of its genre, 60s British Hit Machine. (Okay, I just made up that genre.) The go-go routine isn't all bad, but here and there it raises enough of a smile to compete with Freddie, a fairly amusing chap himself. The reaction of the girl tearing the lining out of her hat(?) with her teeth at 0.58 is open to interpretation.

#2 This barely squeezes into the category, because Johnny Farnham's Sadie the Cleaning Lady dancers aren't strictly go-go girls at all. The choreographer has borrowed some moves from go-go but this owes more to classical and jazz ballet. For once, a comment at YouTube is quotable: This video is creepy and disturbing.

#1 Apart from its dated, hyperactive dance moves, this has an endearing antique amateurism about it, and even the great Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs seem to have been captured on an off day. To me, this is high comedy, up there with Ze Frank's How to Dance Properly:

03 April 2008

The Juanita Banana phenomenon

The Peels - Juanita Banana
(Tash Howard - Murray Kenton)Arranged & conducted by Charlie Fox.
A Howard-Smith Production

USA 1966
Karate single #522
Stateside (UK) single #513
Karate single in Australia (pictured) released through Astor

Juanita Banana is a comic song about a Mexican banana grower's daughter who makes it as a singing star in the big city [lyrics]. When "Juanita Banana" sings the chorus it is an operatic caricature, a worked-over version of Caro Nome, an aria from Giusseppe Verdi's Rigoletto.

The title echoes Chiquita Banana, the 1944 jingle about the cartoon mascot of the United Fruit Company, the international banana trader that evolved into the present-day Chiquita Brands International.

I first heard Juanita Banana when it was excerpted on a novelty record by Dickie Goodman, Batman And His Grandmother (1966). This was a cut-in or break-in record (a distant ancestor of the mashup), where a comedian would do a commentary as, say, a news reporter and snippets of current songs would be inserted to fit in with the story.

Although Juanita Banana has been reissued on the likes of 25 All Time Novelty Hits and Definitive 60s, Vol. 1 it never was a national hit in the USA, UK or Australia. Even on the sprinkling of regional US and Canadian charts posted to ARSA the best it manages is #16 at WIXY in Cleveland, and 30 Years of Canadian Charts has it peaking at #29.

So much for the Anglo world, where it seems to be one of those songs that has stuck in the memory longer than its initial popularity justifies. The extraordinary thing about Juanita Banana is the number of times it has been recorded in non-English-speaking countries. Even the Peels' original version was popular in The Netherlands, where it charted at #13.

When I started writing this post, I was going to compile a definitive list of versions, but I've given up that idea: the more I search, the more I find.  Instead, here's a partial list. Some of the exact years are hard to pinpoint, but I believe these are all from the 60s. [Update 2012: See Phil Milstein's recent post at Probe which includes a downloadable .zip file of 21 Juanita Banana versions and related tracks.]

The Peels (USA, 1966)
Henri Salvador (France)
Billy Mo (Germany)
Luis Aguile (Spain, by Argentinian singer)
Quartetto Cetra (Italy)
Het Cocktail Trio
Mal Sondock (Germany, by US singer-deejay, 1966)
Georgie Dann (Spain, by French singer, 1966)
Los Beta (Spain, 1966)
J. R. Corvington (Argentina)
Los Tres Sudamericanos (Paraguayan group; on Spain's Belter label)
Raymond Boisserie (France, 1967)
Marcello Minerbi (Italy, 1966, #9 Austria)
German Moreno (Phillipines, 1968: he also appeared in a 1968 film called Juanita Banana. Details at IMDb are sparse.)
The Monks (single on Vogue. I don't think these are the Yanks in Germany we love so much, but a French band with J. C. Pelletier.)
Jean Bonal Et Son Orchestre (France)
Teddy Martin & His Las Vegas Boys (France?)
The Reels (Spain: not the Aussie band)

A completist would also include Huanita Banana:

7 Mladih (Yugoslavia, 1966)
Radmila Mikic Miki (Yugoslavia, 1967)

That's it for me, but if too much still isn't enough, feel free to browse the 41 000 hits at Google for "juanita banana" (and nearly 1000 for "huanita banana").

How about the small print?

The Mad Music Archive
identifies co-writer Tash Howard as the
producer who put together The Peels, a studio group (not surprising, somehow), and gives some background about the business end of the song's publication.

Tash Howard (c.1941-1977), originally a drummer, had changed his name from Howard Tashman.1 He has 147 compositions listed at BMI, including a follow-up single Juanita Banana Part 2 and (with Charlie Fox) its B-side Rosita Tomato on Karate #533. Between the two Juanitas was Scrooey Mooey on Karate #527, another Tash Howard song (registered title: Screwee Mooey) .

Murray Kenton has eleven songs in his BMI repertoire, the US Copyright Office gives his real name as Morris Temkin and that's about all I know. Howard's co-producer, Smith, is a mystery to me.

Arranger and conductor Charlie Fox is not Charlie Foxx of Mockingbird fame, but he does seem to be the songwriter and film composer Charles Fox, whose repertoire includes Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly, Jim Croce's I Got A Name and the Happy Days theme (all with lyricist Norman Gimbell).

You can read about Charles Fox's distinguished career at the Songwriters' Hall of Fame which - alas! - offers no further insight into his contribution to Juanita Banana.

The Peels - Juanita Banana.mp3

Verdi - Caro None from Rigoletto.mp3
(Maria Callas 1952 - excerpt)

Dickie Goodman - Batman And His Grandmother.mp3
(Juanita first heard at 21 secs.)
Henri Salvador - Juanita Banana.mp3 (French)
Billy Mo - Juanita Banana.mp3 (German)
Luis Aguile - Juanita Banana.mp3 (Spanish)

Update: For more audio, including versions, other Peels songs, and related tracks, all in a downloadable zip file, see Phil Milstein's May 2012 post at Probe.
Footnote: 1. For confirmation that Tash Howard was born Howard Tashman, see the comment below from Holly, who adds some background about the co-writer and producer behind Juanita Banana. (Also mentioned at the Joey Powers page of Harry Young and Larry N. Houlieff.)Not-to-be-confused-with Dept: There is also a London Indie/Pop/Rock singer called Tash Howard (see her MySpace). Tash Howard is also a character played by Barry Van Dyke in an episode of The New Dick Van Dyke Show.... But now I'm getting silly (unless the naming of the character is some kind of in-joke). Oh, and this 21st Century Seattle band called The Peels is not the Juanita Banana group.

The US Copyright Office shows that in 1990 the copyright of Juanita Banana by Tash Howard & Murray Kenton (Morris Temkin) was transferred to Gary Knight aka Harold Temkin who, as Gary Weston, co-wrote
Vacation, the 1962 Connie Francis hit (see BMI repertoires). Further research, anyone?
Thanks to Josef Danksagmüller for Marcello Minerbi version alert.